Reaching Hispanics Online
With 14 percent of the U.S. adult population being Latino and about half of this group going online, your company very well could have a Hispanic following without actively seeking it out. According to a study, “Conexion Cultural/Connected Culture,” released in March by Yahoo! Telemundo and Experian Simmons Research, Spanish-dominant survey participants reported they consume two-thirds of their online content in English due to a lack of Spanish-language alternatives.
In a March report, “Latinos Online,” researchers from the Pew Hispanic Center and Pew Internet Project noted that just one in three Latinos who speaks only Spanish goes online; that rate is three times higher for English-dominant or bilingual Hispanics. And given that broadband usage penetration rates for both Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites are similar, say the Pew researchers, language clearly emerges as a major factor affecting online adoption rates.
Nonetheless, the online Hispanic audience is growing; Jupiter reports a nearly 100 percent increase over the past six years, suggesting that the rate would be higher if Spanish-dominant consumers were better served online. The Yahoo! Telemundo/Experian Simmons Research study seems to further support this theory: The Hispanic population in the United States grew 21 percent from 2000 to 2005, and the percentage of Hispanics who are Spanish-dominant has kept pace.
To cap off this discussion, consider that while only a small percentage of online Hispanics are Spanish-dominant, this segment still equals about 4 million people, says Lee Vann, founder of Captura Group, an online marketing agency based in San Diego that specializes in reaching Hispanic audiences.
English, Spanish or Both?
The main dilemma marketers face when pondering how to best serve Hispanic traffic to their Web sites is whether to develop content in Spanish. Since this is a question of targeting, Vann reminds marketers that there are two segments of online Hispanics:
• Expertos or experts. These consumers are online savvy and prefer English-language sites that still address their culture in a relevant way. This group accounts for about 60 percent to 70 percent of online Hispanics.
• Novatos or novices. Hispanics in this segment are likely to have been online for less than two years, he explains, and probably were born outside the United States. They are comparable in online activity and comfort levels to the general market five to six years ago, so it’s important to build trust with this segment.
Looking at this segmentation, he continues, “the upside is that most Hispanics online prefer English or bilingual sites.” The challenge and opportunity, however, is the identification of these consumers so their experiences can be optimized. Vann notes that behavioral targeting is gaining traction, wherein online users’ activity, say visiting People en Espanol and CNN’s Spanish-language site, is tracked to determine if they might prefer Spanish-language or bilingual banner ads and search results.
Another factor to consider is the perception among Hispanics that the English-language site is going to be better than the Spanish-language version. “And oftentimes, it is,” says Vann.
This inequality is one of the biggest turn-offs for Hispanics. William Fleming, CEO, MotionPoint, a provider of Web site translation technology and services in Coconut Creek, Fla., says that Hispanics often flip back and forth between a company’s English-language and Spanish-language Web sites. “If they see three paragraphs of product description on the English-language site, they expect to see three paragraphs on the Spanish version,” he explains. If they only see one paragraph, they know they’re getting less detailed information, which leaves them frustrated and feeling disrespected.
The same principle applies to how many pages of a site are offered in Spanish. “If you have just one Spanish-language page on your site, what message are you sending to Hispanics about your commitment to serve them?” asks Laura Sonderup, director of Hispanidad, a Denver-based Hispanic marketing agency. Even if your visitors are likely to consider themselves bilingual, she says, they still might not be so proficient if they are looking at, say, jargon-heavy financial service information; they might prefer to switch to a Spanish version of the content to feel more comfortable.
Vann adds that marketers should recognize what is known as family bilingualism, which is when English-speaking family members help Spanish-dominant relatives with translation of English-language sites. For this reason, a toggle feature between comparable Spanish- and English-language sites becomes critical to success; such a tool allows visitors to go back and forth between the same Web pages in the two languages, so Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics are better able to fully discuss and understand your product, offer and purchasing information.
The Copy and Creative Commitment
Of course, a Spanish-language site foremost needs to tie into the marketer’s existing online messaging and mission. That said, Fleming stresses the importance of connecting through the best quality Spanish. “Well-meaning organizations don’t realize that what they’ve put out is not intelligible to a large percentages of Spanish speakers, because the choice in wording has been accidentally driven for a specific segment …” Other times, he adds, you will see language that is flat out offensive to some segments because it might appeal to the region where the translator comes from, and he or she is not skilled enough to realize that the phrasing means something different to other Hispanics.
Beyond language, imagery needs to be selected carefully. Opportunities exist to customize the experience for Hispanics versus Anglos; for example, stronger colors can be used on Spanish-language sites, and it’s a good idea to swap out photos of Anglos for Hispanics. Still, it’s important to make any such changes in a way that does not deliver a limited or inferior site, says Fleming.
A best practice with global navigation is to place the link from your Spanish site to your English site, and vice versa, in a prominent location above the fold; the top-right corner is considered ideal, says Vann. (See the Crutchfield site in “The Language of Service and Sales,” for an example.) Place this link on all pages within the site, since search engines can drive traffic deep into the site. “Actually, the best source of Hispanic traffic for big companies is their general market Web site,” he explains, so marketers should leverage this visibility with the Spanish-speaking market.
SEM Fires up its Engines
Just as it is with English-language sites, SEM is an important step in attracting Hispanic visitors to your Spanish-language site or content.
Even though search engine firms have built Spanish-language engines, it is acknowledged that most U.S. Hispanics—both the English-dominant and bilingual segments—use the main network search platforms, says Nacho Hernandez, CEO and founder, iHispanic, an online marketing agency with U.S. offices in La Jolla, Calif.
But as the Spanish-language platforms are enhanced, he adds, it is likely the overall traffic to them will grow.
Hispanic marketing experts agree that pay-per-click campaigns for Spanish-language terms are less competed on and produce high-volume traffic compared to their English counterparts, making this strategy very affordable for the time being. But you cannot simply translate word for word your top-performing keyword terms from English to Spanish and expect to achieve success. Hernandez points out that proper keyword development includes both the identification of the proper phraseology and the research of terms used by Hispanics. For example, Latinos tend to have brand names follow generic terms in their search practices.
Without a doubt, the online Latino population will continue to grow and show strong consumer demand for a whole range of information, media and e-commerce services.
One such trend currently in the making, notes Yahoo! Telemundo and Experian Simmons Research, is online video advertising. Presently, 80 percent of online Hispanics have broadband access and 44 percent have wireless access to the Web, suggesting strong growth potential. In addition, their study notes a high degree of simultaneous media consumption, specifically a television-cell phone-Internet mix. Savvy marketers will develop integrated campaigns across these channels to engage Hispanic consumers via their preferred media.